It is the proverbial hole in the wall and the menu, at least at lunch, was not extensive, but what was there was quite delicious. I will take quality over quantity any day. At Flan y Ajo, a small tapas bar on Westminster Street in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, the quality was there in spades.
Throw in a a little attitude attitude, BYOB and a location adjacent to Eno, one of the finest liquor and wine shops around, where one can pick up a nice Spanish wine, or better yet, a crisp Asturian cidra, and there is a recipe for a great, simple and relatively inexpensive meal.
At lunch they emphasize bocadillos, Spanish inspired sandwiches. My son and I split a bocadillo of jamon serrano and Manchego cheese. It was toasted in their oven enough to perfectly crisp the bread and give some melt to the cheese. This is a classic combination for a reason and the one served at Flan y Ajo, is no exception to that rule. It sounds rather plain. After all, it is a ham and cheese sandwich in another language, but it is one packed with umami, great flavor and perfect texture.
Another dish that seems to be everywhere and thus potentially easy to ignore, was their gazpacho. Passing on it, however, would have been a big mistake. It was early September with tomatoes at their best. So was this gazpacho. My son and I split an order, which they happily poured in individual glasses, but once I tasted it, I regretted not having one all to myself. It was sublime, capturing the essence of at-the-height-of-the-season tomatoes along with the added complexity of good Spanish oil and the rest of the ingredients. Gazpacho really doesn’t get better than this.
In addition to the bocadillos, they offer a few tapas. The sandwiches can be ordered for take away, but the tapas are for in house dining only. We stood at the bar overlooking the kitchen. The setas salteadas, comprised of wild chicken of the woods mushrooms harvested in and around Providence were lightly cooked along with garlic, olive oil, parsley and sea salt and packed loads of lip-licking flavor.
These were simply sensational.
Littleneck clams were steamed in white wine with garlic, onions, parsley and olive oil and served with crispy bread for sopping up the juices – simple and very satisfying. A bowl was provided for the used shells, a small but important detail.
The only mis-step, if it can be called that, as the term really is a huge overstatement, was that the tortilla, just out of the pan was a bit fragile and difficult to eat. Perserverence was rewarded with excellent flavor. Had we waited for it to cool a bit, it would likely have stayed together a bit better when cut.
Pa amb tomaquet, the Catalan bread, tomato and olive oil classic was wonderfully rendered, as good as any that I’ve had in Catalunya. The crust was crisp, while the tomato and olive oil crumb was turned into a perfectly moist, pillowy mass of exquisite flavor.
Portions are on the small side, but so are the prices. Sometimes small plates can add up to large prices, but here, our net result remained reasonable. We had tried a fair number of dishes and left feeling satisfied having experienced good value and excellent quality.
Outside of the mushrooms we didn’t have anything terribly exotic, but it was all delicious and satisfying. This is a restaurant that is muy simpatico. The owner/cooks, Siobhan María Etxeberría and Diego Luís Pérez, are young, energetic, hard working and talented. They also know Spanish food and don’t try to do more than they can handle. The result is that what they do, they tend to do very well. It must be paying off as they are working on opening a wine bar nearby. If they can continue with the kind of sincere enthusiasm and energy that they have put into Flan y Ajo, that should be pretty successful as well.